Orleans Parish Criminal District Court. (Michael Isaac Stein/The Lens)

The race for Orleans Parish Criminal Clerk of Court will go to a December runoff between Austin Badon and Darren Lombard — the current clerks of the city’s two small claims and eviction courts. Badon is the clerk at First City Court on the city’s East Bank, Lombard at Second City Court on the West Bank. They are vying to replace longtime Criminal Court Clerk Arthur Morrell, who announced his retirement this summer. 

With all but two precincts reporting their votes on Saturday, Badon received 43 percent of the vote on Saturday to Lombard’s 30 percent. Another candidate, Paticia Boyd-Robertson, a professor of public administration at Southern University at New Orleans, who previously served as the accounting supervisor in Morrell’s office, got 27 percent. 

Badon, a former state representative, was elected First City Court Clerk in 2018. During his tenure he said he developed an online records system and improved the relationship between the Clerk’s Office and judges at First City Court. He said wants to do the same at the clerk’s office at Criminal District Court, along with expanding the number of voting precincts.

Lombard served in Morell’s administration for a number of years as deputy clerk before being elected clerk of Second City Court in 2012. He touts his experience supervising and coordinating elections during his time under Morell, and has said it has given him insight into what can be improved in the office. 

“It has not been a total debacle,” Lombard said in a WDSU debate earlier this month. “Mr. Morrell’s done a good job. But I’ve seen things that need to be changed, and I will do that.” 

All of the candidates in the race expressed a desire to modernize the office by putting case files online, which currently does not happen in New Orleans, despite many other jurisdictions   having such systems. 

Morrell has argued that the city has not provided the funding necessary to get it done. 

The Clerk of Criminal Court since 2006, after serving as a state representative for over two decades, Morell announced his retirement in June. 

Throughout his tenure he has battled with mayoral administrations and the New Orleans City Council over the funding of his office, taking the city to court for failing to budget him the money he says they are required to under state law. 

Last year, he threatened to furlough his entire staff due to funding shortages. The move would have essentially thrown a wrench in the criminal justice system in New Orleans, making court proceedings impossible and leaving detainees stranded in jail with no one to process bail payments. 

Morrell eventually backed off on the threat when the city increased the office’s funding from 4 million to 4.6 million dollars, and he agreed to dismiss several lawsuits he had filed against the city. 

Earlier this year, Morrell faced criticism  for not processing expungements in a timely manner during the pandemic. Attorneys said that his office was not turning around records that were required and sometimes lost necessary documents to clear criminal records. 

Both Badon and Lombard have said they want to make the expungement process more efficient when they take over the office. 

Nick Chrastil

Nicholas Chrastil covers criminal justice for The Lens. As a freelancer, his work has appeared in Slate, Undark, Mother Jones, and the Atavist, among other outlets. Chrastil has a master's degree in mass...